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A set of landmark civil rights cases, including one involving a Michigan transgender woman, are on the U.S. Supreme Court’s docket, and Lansing Mayor Andy Schor has signed the city of Lansing on to support her and two gay men who were fired from their jobs because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The cases could determine whether existing civil rights law prohibits workplace discrimination against gay and transgender employees.
Schor signed an amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court along with 85 other mayors and county officials across the nation. In addition to Lansing, eight other Michigan local governments are supporting LGBTQ rights, including Detroit, Grand Rapids and Jackson Mayor Derek Dobies.
“Lansing’s time is now, and as we grow Lansing we will do it together and for everyone. We are welcoming and diverse, and we will leave no one behind. Everyone must work together to move Lansing forward,” Schor said in a statement.
Separately, U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, who represents Ingham County, signed onto a brief of support with other Democratic members of Congress, including U.S. Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan. Attorney General Dana Nessel has also signed on the state of Michigan.
On the other side, a number of Republican-led states are arguing that existing federal civil rights protections do not apply to sexual orientation or gender identity and the courts are bypassing Congress and overstepping their authority.
In the Michigan case, Aimee Stephens, an employee of Harris Funeral Homes in Garden City, near Detroit, was fired after she decided to transition from male to female and dress for work as a woman.
Her boss stated in his filing before the court that he’d be “violating God’s commands” if he allowed Stephens to dress for work as a woman.
In the other cases, a New York skydiving instructor was fired after he told a customer he was gay, something which made her uncomfortable, and a county child welfare official in Georgia claims he was fired because he is gay.
Lower courts have split, with favorable rulings for Stephens and the New York man and a dismissal of the Georgia man’s wrongful termination lawsuit.
Stephens’ case has a chance of succeeding even if the conservative Roberts court balks at applying the Civil Rights Act to gays and lesbians. In 1989, the high court decided on a 6-3 vote that a woman was wrongly fired for not dressing “feminine” enough, and employers could not compel employees to dress according to gender stereotypes.
But that 1989 court included only two arch-conservatives and still had liberal lions Thurgood Marshall and William Brennan. President Trump has also reversed the positions of the Obama administration, which had argued that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protected gay and trans workers.